Since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, we have seen the all-too-frequent parade of politicians offering their “thoughts and prayers.”
Then, Gov. Bruce Rauner under-performed even those politicians with his self-preserving veto of the proposed Gun Dealer Licensing Act. This indifference and ineffectiveness continues even though 650 people were killed last year in Chicago, were murdered, and 3,457 people shot and wounded.
The numbers were a marked “improvement” over the previous year but still intolerable.
On the same day as the Parkland shooting, Chicago experienced the tragic death of 18th District police Cmdr. Paul Bauer.
Faced with a seemingly unending onslaught of gun violence, paired with federal inaction in response to this catastrophe, it is easy to feel hopeless and powerless. In Chicago, we are neither.
Zichronam liVracha — Hebrew that translates to “May their memories be for a blessing” — is the epitaph our Jewish tradition employs for our beloved departed. It is our hope and conviction, in the wake of tragic loss, that the lives led by people like Bauer and the students and faculty at the Parkland high school and all other lives cut short by gun violence continue to serve as a blessing to the world from which they were taken.
While many students walked out of class on Wednesday — and hopefully more of us will gather at Chicago’s Union Park for the “March for Our Lives” on March 24 — we need to transform the energy of our activism into outcomes, into real change.
It is not surprising that many see change as unlikely or respond in a reactionary crouch. Some politicians might find it expedient to employ “tough on crime” rhetoric in response to gun violence. The president wants to strengthen disciplinary policies on students, rather than prevent them from buying assault weapons.
But this offers us a false choice and usually translates into policies that disproportionately, if not intentionally, punish people of color. Draconian sentencing and mass incarceration have failed to keep our communities safe. As have our politicians. That is the bad news.
The good news is that, where our governor placed his own political career over the sanctity of human life, our mayor has the opportunity — unilaterally — to improve the safety of every citizen of Chicago.
This year, Rahm Emanuel said he will be hiring 1,000 new police officers. Each of those recruits will be given a procurement allowance, from taxpayer money, to purchase a uniform, a gun and ammunition.
The average price of a police firearm is $750, so that is about three-quarters of a million taxpayer dollars that will be spent buying guns for cops. That is a lot of money. Right now, it is entirely possible that a large amount of taxpayer money will be spent by new CPD recruits at the very same store from which the killer of Bauer’s purchased his weapon.
All too frequently, cops and the criminals who shoot at them shop at the same gun stores, which, in fact, often offer steep discounts to law enforcement. We can use both our activist energy and our purchasing power to change this situation and demand accountability from our mayor and the police.
Emanuel can change this situation by establishing a preferred dealer list for police procurement and demanding that preferred dealers uphold a responsible code of conduct. According to leaders of United Power for Action and Justice, such a list would ensure that nearly $1 million of taxpayer funds do not fall into the hands of gun dealers who sell to criminals. We can create a culture — for police and beyond — of responsible gun purchasing.
Many Americans — after witnessing the shame of congressional inaction after the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre or the Las Vegas mass shooting — believe we cannot reform our gun culture. The opposite is true.
Thousands — if not tens of thousands — of us will gather at Union Park on March 24 to demand gun safety. The opportunity to march is here in Chicago, and the opportunity to change is here in Chicago.
If the killings of Bauer and the students and faculty in Parkland can catalyze action to take guns out of the hands of criminal, we can ensure that their memory will live on as a blessing.
Seth M. Limmer is senior rabbi of Chicago Sinai Congregation. Sun-Times CEO Edwin Eisendrath is a member of Limmer’s congregation.